Deborah Jean Eaton was born August 12, 1996, to George and Bernice Eaton of Natchez, Mississippi.

George is the long-time manager of The Castle Restaurant and Pub, an elegant restaurant on the grounds of Dunleith Plantation in Natchez. Bernice began working at the Cathedral School when Deborah started kindergarten there. Bernice is currently the office manager at the school where her two younger children still attend: Judy, a high school junior; and Pete, an eighth-grader.

Long-term friends remembered that Deborah worked hard for everything she ever had. Her family never had money for extras such as after-school sports, music or dance lessons, but they stressed the importance of a good education and supported her participation in school clubs and activities.

Debby started babysitting for neighbors when she was 13 and began work at a McDonald's at 15. She worked after school, on weekends and during vacations, gaining work experience until her father let her work at his restaurant beginning in her senior year in high school. She carefully managed her earnings and spent it on clothes and school activities.

Debby always tried to live up to her parents' expectations. Consequently, she was an outstanding student at the Cathedral School throughout her time there. She graduated near the top of her class and won an academic scholarship from the University of Mississippi.

After Debby enrolled at Ole Miss, the first thing she did was look for a job to supplement the modest allowance her parents sent her. She found a position at the restaurant Bouré, and she has worked there ever since.

Even with the extra income, Debby longed for the things she couldn't afford: a car, a sorority membership, an off-campus apartment, a chance to travel instead of working during vacations, and a boyfriend to take her to parties and other events. Her friends say they sometimes tire of hearing her moan about people who have things she doesn't and all the things they do that she can't afford.

Just before the fall semester began this year, Debby met Hunter Nelson while she was waitressing at Bouré. She had been aware of the Nelson family — and Hunter — since her childhood in Natchez. The Nelsons were the wealthy family who lived in a gorgeous antebellum mansion that everyone daydreamed about living in one day. When Debby met Hunter, she turned on the charm and was rewarded when he asked her out.

Hunter fulfilled Debby's ideal of the well-to-do fraternity man on campus that she had longed for at Ole Miss. Debby was hesitant to tell him about her history for fear he wouldn't accept her, but she was pleased to find that, in spite of the differences in their background, they had some interests in common.

Debby's friends say she was aware of the gossip about Hunter's affair with Kristi Waterson, and she worried he might still have feelings for Kristi since he refused to discuss their relationship. Debby was afraid to press him about it because she didn't want to do or say anything to jeopardize their relationship.

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